LAW RESOURCE INDIA

WITNESS EXAMINATION THROUGH VIDEO CONFRENCING

Posted in JUSTICE by NNLRJ INDIA on November 1, 2011

Once the victim is rehabilitated, it is not in her interest to recall her to the court of law for any purpose including evidence, as she is compelled to relive the trauma and indignity. Therefore, it would be better to take into consideration the statement given by her before repatriation and act accordingly. If, however, her recall is necessitated, it should be done in such a way that it causes  least harm to her. Dislocating her from the rehabilitated ambience usually causes serious problems. Therefore, if her statement is to be recorded, or evidence taken, it should be done in commission  or through video conferencing at an appropriate place which would create least disturbance and discomfort to the person concerned. The Supreme Court has held in State of Maharashtra vs Praful Desai (2003 4 SCC 601) that the recording of evidence by way of video conferencing might be done in cases where the attendance of the witness cannot be ensured without delay, expense and inconvenience. It was also held by the apex court that recording of evidence by video conferencing was a ‘procedure established by law’ under Article 21 of the Constitution and did not violate the rights of the accused. The court observed that although the rights of the accused must be safeguarded, they should not be overemphasised to the extent of forgetting that the victim also has rights. Therefore, the ITPA should make it mandatory to provide video conferencing facility at the place where the victim would find it comfortable. The victim’s best interests should be the deciding factor in choosing the place and time of video recording/conferencing.

Another order by the High Court of Delhi has made notable improvement in the field of criminal jurisprudence and victim protection in India. On 27 February 2004, the High Court delivered this order, in Crl. M.1467/04 in Crl. W. 532/1992, in a petition filed by an NGO Prajwala of Hyderabad through its advocate Ms. Aparna Bhat. Thanks to the intervention of the Delhi High Court, girls rescued from the brothels in Delhi were repatriated and rehabilitated in their hometowns in several parts of India including Andhra Pradesh. The rehabilitation work was carried out by the Government of Andhra Pradesh with the involvement and participation of the NGO, Prajwala. Many of these girls who had been rehabilitated to districts like Nellore, were summoned by the trial court in Delhi for providing evidence against the exploiters. Since these girls were repatriated after spending considerable time in the rescue home in Delhi, ideally speaking, their statements should have been recorded by the trial court during that period. However, due to the delays in the trial, this was not done and, therefore, these girls were called to Delhi. The government agencies in Andhra Pradesh tried their best to get in touch with these girls. Since their efforts failed, Prajwala was asked to step in again. The NGO realised that these girls were reluctant and unwilling to go to Delhi mainly because they did not want to relive the trauma and agony which they had undergone. It was decided to move the trial court for facilitating the recording of evidence of these girls to their hometowns. However, the court did not approve of this for want of required infrastructure. The matter was, therefore, taken up with the High Court of Delhi which directed the government counsel to look for alternatives. Since National Informatics Centre did not have the required facilities, the counsels for the government and the NGO took initiative, interacted with the government of Andhra Pradesh and found that video conferencing facility was available in Andhra Bhawan, New Delhi. The A.P. government agreed to provide this facility, which they have in Delhi and the concerned district headquarters in Andhra Pradesh. The High Court confirmed the availability of these facilities at A.P. Bhawan by judicial officers and then gave orders for recording the evidence of the victims through video conferencing. The court also directed that the state of Andhra Pradesh make appropriate arrangements for the same and that the trial court ensure adequate safeguards enumerated in the decision of the Supreme Court in State of Maharashtra vs.Dr. Praful B. Desai, 2003 4 SCC 601. This was a historical decision of the Delhi High Court because, for the first time in India, inter-state video conferencing was being utilised in criminal trials.  Once implemented, this judgment can go a long way in protecting the rights of trafficked victims and, therefore, is a judgment truly honouring the human rights of the victims.

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